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‘It’s a very hard place to work right now’: Kootenai Health hits another record high for COVID-19 hospitalizations

An emergency department sign is shown Sept. 10 at Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene.  (Associated Press)
By Arielle Dreher and Garrett Cabeza The Spokesman-Review

Kootenai Health saw another significant surge in COVID-19 patients as the Coeur d’Alene hospital hit its highest coronavirus count at 150 on Wednesday.

Jeremy Evans, chief regional operations officer and COVID-19 incident commander, said 43 patients are at the critical care level and 17 are on ventilators.

Kootenai Health had 115 COVID-19 patients this time last week.

Dr. Robert Scoggins, medical director of the hospital’s critical care unit, said it is averaging about one COVID-19 death per day.

“It’s a very hard place to work right now,” Scoggins said. “The patients are very sick and it’s just a constant struggle to take care of these patients on a daily basis. The nursing staff is tired. I think that without our federal resources that we got, I’m not sure how we would have taken care of all these patients.”

Scoggins said the number of patients on the verge of being intubated and dying is extraordinary. He said the surge has brought more pregnant COVID-19 patients to Kootenai Health’s intensive care unit. There are two pediatric COVID-19 patients at the hospital.

“It’s just incredibly difficult to describe what it’s like to take care of these patients, to be on the floor and see these patients,” Scoggins said.

He said the COVID-19 test positivity rate is very high, so he expects admissions to continue.

“The struggle for the patients, for the families, for the staff, I really wish we were out of this and were able to get past it, but I think we’ll probably be having another press conference next week with either the same numbers or more if this continues,” he said.

Scoggins said the high number of middle-aged and younger patients admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 struck him this week. Several of them have died, he said.

Scoggins said one patient was in the ICU for a couple days, was discharged and then returned to Kootenai Health with a serious COVID-19 complication.

“I think the one thing that people don’t realize is, even if you make it out of the hospital and go home, what we’re seeing is a lot of people are going to have chronic lung disease,” said Scoggins, adding that he believes many will need lung transplants.

He said he is afraid that the aforementioned patient might be dependent on oxygen for the rest of his life. Scoggins said health officials do not know what the long-term consequences of COVID-19 are.

Scoggins said that patient asked Scoggins when he could get the COVID-19 vaccine after he got out of the hospital.

He said it’s amazing that the hospital has been able to make room to take care of COVID-19 patients. Kootenai Health has taken COVID-19 patients from local critical access hospitals that do not have the ability to take care of those patients.

As patient volumes continue to climb, Evans said, Kootenai Health has cared for patients in overflow areas.

Meanwhile, Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velázquez said he is hopeful the region will see case counts plateau soon, but asked the public to remain diligent in wearing masks and getting vaccinated.

Hospitalizations in Spokane County have gone down slightly, allowing the larger medical centers to take transfers from outlying communities. Velázquez said the hospitals hope to begin some of the backlogged surgeries and procedures by mid-October if the trend continues.

Here’s a look at local numbers:

The Spokane Regional Health District reported 263 COVID-19 cases Wednesday. There are 186 hospitalizations in Spokane County.

The Panhandle Health District reported 202 new cases and 2,116 backlogged cases Wednesday. There are 165 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.